20 years ago, if you asked most Page, Arizona residents where Horseshoe Bend was, the majority of them – present company included – wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. Those who did know probably would have pulled you aside and instructed you, in hushed tones usually reserved for covert ops, to head South on US89 to mile marker 545. There, you would have found a small parking lot and a non-descript trail that led to what was, at the time, the Lake Powell area’s best-kept secret: an unbelievable 270° hairpin curve, carved into Navajo sandstone by the artist forever known as the Colorado River. There was no fence or railing to obstruct your jaw-dropping view of this “incised meander.” Chances are, you would have had the place to yourselves for the better part of the day to enjoy the silence and the occasional squawk of a raven, or the rustle of the river coursing 700’ below you on its way to the Grand Canyon.
That was then. This is now.
The secret got out about Horseshoe Bend, as secrets tend to do. Only this one got out big, and it got out fast. Now, visitation numbers in the thousands, and that’s not monthly or weekly – that’s daily. The result? Traffic jams, parking nightmares, fragile vegetation getting squashed by illegal parking and trail blazing, pedestrian bottlenecks, restroom lines and overflowing trash bins. Perhaps the most troublesome issue, however, was the skyrocketing number of 9-1-1 calls coming in to Page, Arizona EMS and the National Park Service for heat-related emergencies in the summertime. In 2017 alone, there were over 100 such calls. Sadly, one proved fatal. Something needed to be done to improve accessibility and safety at the Horseshoe Bend Overlook. It was long past time.
In the latter half of 2017, construction got underway on some much-needed improvements to Horseshoe Bend Overlook. The National Park Service and the City of Page would work together to correct some of the more pressing challenges affecting this now-iconic viewpoint, such as:
At present, the first phase of construction is expected to be completed by spring of 2018. A second phase, including a visitor center, water fountains and entrance fee collection station, may come online in the foreseeable future – note, we said “may,” not “will.”
Naturally, more than a few people cried “foul” over the proposed “taming” of this once-wild location. Indeed, one of many things that first attracted a lot of people – present company included – to this part of the country was the dearth of warning signs, fences and other accouterments of civilization designed to save lives at all costs. But as you can hopefully see in these recent photos of the construction in progress, the fenced area is actually a fraction of the whole overlook. If you don’t like the fence, all you have to do is walk 50’ in either direction. Just don’t fall in. As a recent observers aptly put, “it’s right where it needs to be, and 99% of the rim will remain unfenced.” Another consideration: Horseshoe Bend is technically within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, a Federal Fee Area, and as such, is required to bring as many of its facilities as possible in compliance with the ADA. That is certain to be a welcome change for visitors who previously resigned themselves to not being able to make the walk (although flying over Horseshoe Bend remains a viable option for those individuals and their families).
The best part? Ongoing construction has in no way impeded access to the overlook for those who want to experience the Horseshoe Bend Overlook on their forthcoming Lake Powell and Grand Canyon vacations. Stay tuned for future updates on this work in progress!